Classmates congratulate Oz Attal, second from the left, after he completed Alyn Hospital’s Wheels of Love bike-a-thon. (photo from Canadian Friends of BTJ)
This Chanukah, Boys Town Jerusalem is celebrating its own miracle. Student Oz Attal is taking an active role in the school-wide celebrations. Just over three years ago, the then-12-year-old boy was hit by a bus as he was coming home from day camp. With severe head and internal injuries, he was in a coma for six weeks. The moment he regained consciousness, he began an intense, painstaking struggle to regain his function and independence. Today, pushing a walker, 16-year-old Oz (Hebrew for “strength”) has rejoined his class at Boys Town.
“There wasn’t a day that Boys Town wasn’t there for Oz,” recalled his mother, Yael. “Rabbi Meir Linchner, dean of students, and principal Rabbi Elimelech Yaakov were at our side in the hospital almost immediately after the accident. Once Oz was conscious, the school sent a steady flow of classmates to visit him regularly. Even when Oz entered the Alyn Pediatric Rehabilitation Centre for what would become nearly a three-year stay, several teachers voluntarily came each week to tutor him. Although he could barely communicate, Oz clearly felt strong and loved.”
Watching Oz dart through Boys Town’s halls – and stairs – his mother noted that, two years ago, the doctors declared that her son would never walk again. Although Oz needs a walker for support, he cuts himself no slack when heading indoors or outdoors with his class. “Yet, with traumatic brain injury (TBI), no one can know the extent of the permanent injury,” she said. “For now, Oz’s left side is weak, and his hand shakes. Sadly, he has no long-term memory and no control over what he may say, yet he understands the academic material quite well. Most crucial, he has iron motivation.”
Last year, Oz began coming to Boys Town several hours, one day a week, accompanied by his mother. At the start of the school year, Linchner informed her that, for the four days that Oz is not in treatment at Alyn Hospital, he can return to his 11th-grade class, where Linchner himself is the main instructor. The classroom was then moved to a lower floor. “At first, I stayed at Oz’s side in class and also helped him manoeuvre his way through the halls between classes,” she explained. “Very soon, Rabbi Linchner informed me that BTJ had made arrangements for a ‘shadow’ to accompany Oz for the year and relieve me.” (At home, Oz’s seven siblings await her.)
Tears filled Oz’s eyes when he first took his seat in class, Linchner recalled. “His 36 classmates received him with love and extreme patience. They are now learning an invaluable lesson in how to give of themselves.”
Recently, the entire class joined Oz in a moment of triumph when he pedaled to the finish line of Alyn Hospital’s Wheels of Love bike-a-thon. Waving signs that said, “Oz the King!” his classmates and teachers heartily cheered for him.
“Oz has been blessed with an extraordinary family and a fierce will to live,” Linchner said. “For us, his teachers and classmates, it’s an honor to be a part of the miracle of Oz’s life.”